The Gift of Sauce – Ragu alla Bolognese
By Jessi Singson
If the name Marcella Hazan doesn’t ring a bell to you, I’m about to introduce you to a very wonderful woman. Fondly referred to as the patron saint of the home kitchen, Marcella is considered the one of the greatest mothers of Italian cuisine.
When you read one of her books, you can almost feel her hovering over your shoulder with her hand on her hip as you follow her instructions. She speaks to you with an authoritative tone, stern and sure of herself, while also encouraging for you to taste, adjust, and find your own voice in the kitchen.
As a tribute to the late, great Marcella Hazan, today we will cook her ragù alla bolognese.
One of my favourite things to gift loved ones is a jar of homemade pasta sauce – in my opinion, it’s very thoughtful, and always seems to be much appreciated. To me, cooking is a wholehearted expression of love. So what better way to say “I love you” than food prepared from the heart? If you’re looking for a unique and delicious present for somebody you care about, then this is for you.
If you’re not looking for that, this is still for you – it would be a sin for me not to urge you to make this as soon as possible! It is perfect in its simplicity, and one of the best bologneses I’ve tried so far. Be warned, though, that this ragù is not for those in a hurry. It can take up to six hours to finish, so I suggest you start quite early in the day and have a good book on standby. It may sound tedious and daunting, but those 6 hours are a great excuse to sit back, relax, and take some time for yourself too!
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
2/3 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup chopped carrot
3/4 pound ground lean beef (preferably chuck or the meat from the neck)
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups canned Italian tomatoes
1. In a heavy-bottomed pot, add the oil, butter, and onions. Sauté over medium heat until translucent. Add the celery and carrot, and cook for 2 minutes.
2. Add the ground beef, a generous pinch of salt, and freshly ground pepper. Break up the meat with a fork, stir, and cook only just until the meat looses its red, raw colour.
3. Pour in the milk. Let it gently simmer away, stirring frequently. Once it has evaporated completely, stir in the nutmeg.
4. Pour in the wine, and let it simmer away completely. Remember to stir every now and then.
5. Once the wine has evaporated, add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly. When the tomatoes have started to bubble, turn the heat down so it simmers very gently. Cook, uncovered, for a minimum of 3 hours (Marcella says more is better, and it truly is). If it starts to dry out, add half a cup of water when you feel necessary. Taste and season.
While at first your sauce will be a little watery and pale, given some (a lot!) of time and care, it will thicken, and deepen in colour. It will become gorgeously rich and absolutely delicious, I promise!
Alternatively, you could toss it with some tagliatelle and garnish with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano. While any kind of pasta would suffice, certain sauces pair better with certain pastas – in this case the tagliatelle is traditional, as its thickness and texture are ideal for a rich ragù alla bolognese.